GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – MAY 2020

Freeze-Drying Blood

 Human blood can typically only be stored for six weeks. It also needs to be refrigerated, which may be challenging in poor countries or remote locations. A new study, though, could lead to a method of drying blood for long-term room-temperature storage.

A team of scientists at Kentucky’s University of Louisville started by placing red blood cells in a spiral-shaped microfluidic channel, to which they added microscopic bubbles of inert gases, and a fluorescent organic compound known as fluorescein.

The researchers then applied short pulses of ultrasound to the setup. In a process called sonoporation, this caused the bubbles to pop, harmlessly punching small pores in the blood cells’ outer membranes as they did so. Fluorescein molecules were able to enter the cells through those pores, which subsequently closed back up.

Once it was confirmed that the easily-imaged fluorescent molecules had successfully made their way into the blood cells, the scientists repeated the sonoporation process on a fresh batch of cells. This time, however, instead of adding fluorescein, they introduced an inexpensive biocompatible sugar known as trehalose.

It’s naturally produced by “extremophile” organisms living in hostile environments, allowing them to endure long dry periods without experiencing any cell degradation. Among other things, it has also previously been used to create dried versions of live-virus vaccines.

The Louisville team subsequently freeze-dried the trehalose-laden blood cells, stored them at room temperature for 24 hours, and then rehydrated them with de-ionized water. A control group of regular red blood cells, that did not receive any trehalose, were also freeze-dried, stored and rehydrated.

Hans Zimmer Composes For BMW i4

 When BMW’s latest electric car hits the roads next year pedestrians should make sure to listen out for a sound that makes their lives “less chaotic and more beautiful”.

That is what Hans Zimmer, the composer known for his work on films such as The Lion KingInceptionDunkirk and Gladiator, says he is trying to do after being commissioned to create the sounds for the BMW i4.

Anyone who has switched to an electric vehicle will have noticed the lack of engine noise. While that may be pleasant for drivers, it has worried regulators on both sides of the Atlantic who have warned that such cars do not give enough warning to pedestrians.

Toyota Invests In Tilt-Rotor Air Taxi

 Joby Aviation has been beavering away hammering out the designs and flight dynamics of its awesome-looking tilt-rotor eVTOL for more than 10 years. Now, Joby’s got over half a billion dollars in the bank thanks to an investment round led by Toyota.

Toyota’s share of the US$590 million series C finance round was a whopping $394 million, and it comes with a commitment to bring its storied manufacturing, quality and cost control approaches to the table as Joby prepares to make a run toward FAA certification and commercialization of its five-seat electric VTOL air taxis.

Sprayable Sensors Make Any Surface Interactive

 Imagine touching the armrest of your sofa to change the channel on your television, or pressing against a lightbulb stencil on the wall to turn on your smart light – these functions and many more like them are now possible thanks to research from a team from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT, and the University of Bristol and the University of Bath in the UK.

Called Sprayable User Interfaces, the technology combines a top design layer and an underlying conductive copper ink layer that’s able to recognize touch, along with a microcontroller that connects to the ink and responds to it. The interfaces work on rough surfaces and curved surfaces, and even in wet outdoor settings.

Through the use of the special ink, you’re essentially able to connect any kind of stencil design with other gadgets. Want to press your office wall to hear some music? You got it.

“Unlike many existing techniques, such as 3D printing, screen printing or inkjet printing, spraying is not bound to a specific volume and, as often demonstrated by graffiti artwork, can create output that covers entire walls and even building facades,” write the researchers in their paper. “Our work contributes to the vision of blending digital user interfaces with the physical environment and extends it to large-scale interactive surfaces.”

Making Sure Your Uber Smells Good Inside

 The primary considerations before booking an Uber are usually the state of your bank account and your state of inebriation. Now Ford is looking at technology to tell passengers what their arriving car smells like, and if it is likely to trigger any allergies they may have.

The US car manufacturer has filed a patent for a system that would recognise if a vehicle smell does not accord with a passenger’s preferences, using environmental sensors in the car.

When a passenger requests a ride, the computer would check available cars against the preferences the passenger had entered into their Uber app. If the car smelt of something the user had rejected, such as tobacco or peanuts, the computer would cancel the ride.

The computer could also send a message saying how bad the smell is, including “horrible”, “acceptable” and “pleasant”, allowing users to choose to reject that car for their trip.

Your Used Electric Car Battery Will Power Your Home

After at least five years of transporting you around the country, car batteries will now spend their retirement making you tea and toast and running your washing machine.

Used electric car batteries are being converted into home energy storage units which can be linked to rooftop solar panels to keep lights on and devices running when the sun goes down.

The initiative between Honda and Snam, an Italian energy infrastructure company, will reuse or recycle thousands of batteries from electric and hybrid cars and vans across Europe, with single batteries installed in homes and banks of them linked to wind farms to store electricity.

They will also be used by homes and businesses on “time of use” electricity tariffs — to be charged up when electricity is cheap

Can Geo-Engineering Save The Great Barrier Reef?

 Whitening clouds to reflect sunlight, creating sea fog and breeding heat-resistant coral are among ideas that will be trialled in an attempt to save the Great Barrier Reef from global warming.

The 1,400-mile reef — the world’s largest — off northeast Australia is in danger of dying as the seas warm. It is in the throes of its third mass bleaching event in five years, a phenomenon that occurs when heat stress causes corals to expel the algae that provide their colour and energy.

Up to 43 ideas are to receive as much as A$300 million (£151m) in public and private funds. The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program — the result of a two-year study that whittled down 160 ventures seeking funds — was “our chance to shine”, said Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister.

New Urine Test For Lung Cancer

 Early detection is key when it comes boosting survival rates for cancer patients, and there are a lot of ways scientists are working to swing the odds in their favour. Urine tests that pick up biomarkers of the disease are one exciting possibility, and researchers at MIT have demonstrated a particularly promising example that could give efforts to diagnose early-stage lung cancer a huge boost.

The technology was developed by scientists in MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, who have previously developed sensors that can detect early signs of ovarian and colon cancer. The team is now turning its attention to lung cancer, which is usually diagnosed using CT scans that reveal tumours in the lungs but also returns a lot of false positives, mistaking benign growths for malignant ones.

The sensor has been in the works for a number of years, with Sangeeta Bhatia leading a research team in developing nanoparticles that link up with enzymes known as proteases. These enzymes are key to the survival and spread of the cancerous cells, enabling them to move beyond their original locations by slicing through the extracellular matrix – the network of molecules, such as collagen and other structural proteins, that surround the cells.

 

 

 

 

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